After landing on Sunday 17th, the 2000 men of the 1st Airborne's 1st Para Brigade encountered heavy opposition as they marched towards the bridge, and only their 700-strong 2nd Battalion, under the command of Colonel John Frost, succeeded in reaching it. These paratroopers were only able to capture the northern end, but reasoned that it was effectively under their control until the remainder of the Division arrived to reinforce them, or British tanks arrived from the south. Frost ordered his men to fortify themselves inside buildings around the bridge for the battle that would surely follow.
Throughout Monday 18th, the remainder of the 1st Para Brigade fought desperately to reach the bridge, but by nightfall they were still over a mile away from it, and their numbers were heavily depleted. However by the end of that second day, substantial reinforcements had arrived with the Second Lift, and the Division made a determined attack was made on Tuesday morning. However German reinforcements had also been arriving in strength, and they raised a series of blocking lines to halt the progress of the lightly armed airborne men. The fighting was vicious and it led to the loss of much of the Division. Indeed, so weakened were they, that they no longer had enough men to mount another attack.
On Wednesday 20th, the decision was made to abandon John Frost at the Bridge, and fortify the remaining 3500 men of the Division into a defensive perimeter near to the town of Oosterbeek. It was hoped that if they could hold their position north of the river, then when British ground troops arrived, they could secure the southern side and erect a temporary bridge to transfer men and tanks across. If this could be done, then Market Garden would still be a success.
In Arnhem itself, the Germans had made it their priority to remove the paratroopers from the bridge and regain control of it. Heavy and repeated infantry and tank attacks were made against the British, who in turn fought savagely for every inch of ground and refused to yield. On Tuesday, sensing that these tactics were not having the desired effect, the Germans decided to lay down a heavy artillery barrage over the area in an attempt to blow the defenders out of their positions by systematically demolishing the buildings they occupied. Infantry and tanks continued to attack positions that they felt were weakened, but once more they were staunchly resisted. However on Wednesday, their gallant resistance began to fail. This was not so much because of the high number of dead and wounded on the British side, but because, after many days of continuous fighting, their ammunition had run very low and they had little left to fight with. One by one positions began to fall until the entire defence collapsed early on Thursday morning, and almost all of the airborne troops were captured. John Frost and his 700 men had held the Bridge for a total of three days and four nights - almost as long as it was believed that the entire 10,000 strong Division could hold it.